And yet they insist that America never executed an innocent person

And yet they insist that America never executed an innocent person

by digby

A little story in passing from the New York Times:
Seventy years after he was executed in South Carolina, George Stinney’s conviction was vacated by a state judge Wednesday on the grounds that he had not received a fair trial.

Stinney, a 14-year-old black boy, was arrested in March 1944 for the murder of two white girls in Clarendon County, S.C. In less than three months, he was tried, convicted and put to death.He was the youngest person to be executed in the U.S. in the 20th century. Reports from the execution chamber said he was so small that the jolt of electricity knocked the mask from his face.

In a 28-page order, Judge Carmen T. Mullen — who heard testimony on the case in January — did not rule on the merits of the murder charges against Stinney, but found that there were “fundamental, constitutional violations of due process” across the board.

Indeed, nothing about Stinney’s case came close to meeting basic constitutional requirements.

He was arrested without a warrant and questioned without a lawyer.

The lawyer eventually appointed to defend him was a tax commissioner who had never before represented a criminal defendant.

The only evidence against him was the word of the local police chief who said he had confessed.

Stinney’s entire capital trial lasted three hours. His lawyer neither cross-examined the prosecution’s witnesses nor called any witnesses for the defense.

The jury — all white in a county that was almost three-quarters black — convicted and condemned him in 10 minutes. There were no appeals.

Judge Mullen found fault on all of these counts. Regarding the confession, she wrote, “it is highly likely that the Defendant was coerced into confessing to the crimes due to the power differential between his position as a fourteen-year-old black male apprehended and questioned by white, uniformed law enforcement in a small, segregated mill town in South Carolina.”

She also found that Stinney’s constitutional rights were violated by a lawyer who was the “essence” of ineffectiveness, and by the empaneling of an all-white jury.

The story shows that since then the Supreme Court has expanded constitutional protections for criminal defendants, perhaps most importantly for a case like this, the banning of executions of people who were minors when the crime was committed.

Which happened all the way back in 2005!

The article points out the stark fact that African Americans make up a third of death row convicts and that "a black defendant convicted of killing a white person is still nearly 10 times as likely to be sentenced to death as a white defendant convicted of killing a black person."

But surely there's nothing to see there folks. Our system can't make mistakes today, it's that good. If we execute a person you can bet they committed the crime.

Just like this poor, poor kid...

For all of our great faith in the American system we sure are cavalier about that whole innocent and guilty thing. Just ask Dick Cheney --- he figures as long as few guilty ones get punished too it's all good.

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